Volunteers try to help homeless animals in Fellsmere
Posted on Jul 26, 2015by Samantha Baita
FELLSMERE — Police says stray dogs and cats are a problem in Fellsmere, negatively impacting safety and quality of life. To help solve the problem, Police Chief Keith Touchberry contacted Ilka Daniel, Director of Outreach for the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County.
The two have now created COPP – Citizens On Pet Patrol – a collaboration between law enforcement, Indian River County Animal Control, the Humane Society and Fellsmere citizens.
At-large dogs and cats present several kinds of hazards: they can be injured or killed by vehicles; exposed to rabies, diseases, parasites; become prey for an increasing population of coyotes; frighten or attack walkers, joggers, children or pets; or even develop into packs, thereby increasing the danger to humans, pets and livestock.
Stray, feral or community cats present similar risks and, says Daniel, “cats are the No. 1 domestic carriers of rabies and,” she warned, “there is currently a rabies outbreak in Indian River County.”
Now, COPP volunteers will be on the lookout for stray animals.
“The more eyes the better,” says Touchberry.
COPP participants and other citizens are encouraged to post pictures of stray animals on Facebook with a description of the animal and date, time and location information. The city will then repost the images and info on its Facebook page under the heading: Is this your dog?
Also posted is info about where the animal was taken along with a contact phone number.
Touchberry is pleased with the enthusiastic response to the COPP program.
“We’ve seen tremendous interest in the animal posts. People started posting on our Facebook page and sending in pictures of stray and loose dogs.”
Daniel is excited about the COPP program as well.
“It’s tremendous. I hope it can spread all over the county.”
She says one of the goals of the program is “voluntary compliance” with the Animal Control laws already on the books, which speaks to the important other side of the COPP coin – Prevention: citizen awareness through education and outreach is vital to the program.
In addition to reporting strays, residents who are themselves pet owners are reminded of the importance, for the animal and the community, of having their pet sterilized, inoculated and kept in a contained area or on a leash (cats as well as dogs.).
I.D. chips are also an excellent way to identify an animal and increase its chance of being returned to its owner.
Most of the at-large dogs do have owners, says Touchberry.
In 2014, 228 stray animals were picked up in Fellsmere; countywide the number was 3,485. Daniel says 70 percent of these animals had not been sterilized or inoculated, which made them far more likely to stray.
“Because we do not have our own Animal Control Officer, we rely on County Animal Control,” to pick up the strays, Touchberry says.
County Animal Control Supervisor Jeff West paused in the Fellsmere PD parking lot to talk about his role. He had just collected two strays, a Yorkie-looking dog and a cat, peering nervously out from cages in the back of West’s tidy van, awaiting transport to the Humane Society shelter in Vero Beach.
Because the county does not have its own animal shelter, it contracts with the Humane Society to provide the service.
The dog, said West, was found hanging out with some children playing in Grant Park. Neither animal had collar or identification.
At the shelter, the dog will be held for 5 days, the cat for 3. If no one claims the animals within that time, they will become the property of the Humane Society and, unless they have issues that disallow it, will be put up for adoption, with no further time limit.
West, who has been with Animal Control for 23 years, praised the COPP program, and offered a word of caution: people who are not specially trained should not attempt to handle a stray themselves, but should simply report it.
“People can be the eyes and ears, but not the hands and feet,” he said. “When you spot a stray, call for help.”